Ghosts in Iceland
Sheldrake Post-Ted

When Great Men Die

At the time of writing Nelson Mandela is clinging to life, as they say. Or perhaps trying to divest himself of it. South Africans are said to be praying for him.

It’s the cruel fate of some great national leaders to be kept alive as long as medical technology permits. When I went to Spain in October 1975 to begin my career as a journalist, I arrived just as Franco was at his last gasp. This was excellent timing for me, as it meant there would be big political changes to report. It was also joyous news for his many enemies. But it was seen by his supporters to be a catastrophe (correctly from their point of view, as his dictatorship started to crumble within months).

So the hospital doctors made heroic efforts to keep Franco alive for as long as possible. When I arrived in Madrid he had just suffered a third heart-attack, and was clearly being held together with string. Completely pointless of course - but there was a feeling that if they could keep the old geezer going for another month or two they could postpone the future. His last words were said to be, ‘I never knew it could be so hard to die’.

I wonder if something like that is happening to Mandela, who has been in and out of hospital quite a lot in recent months. The thought has occurred to some people. Andrew Mlangeni, a fellow prisoner in Robben Island, thinks it’s too much. When Mandela’s daughter came out with the usual platitudes – that her father is recovering, ‘he’s a fighter’ - Mlangeni was widely quoted as encouraging his family to ‘release’ him ‘so that God may have his own way’.

Some reports talk of Mlangeni having broken a ‘national taboo’, and of course it will be hard for South Africans to lose this source of great inspiration. But the taboo can affect any family, that make strenuous efforts to keep elderly loved ones alive against their will because they can’t deal with the emotional wrench of losing them - with the acquiescence of medical staff who, left to themselves, would prefer to let nature take its course. The case of a young stroke victim, who might conceivably be nursed to recovery, is one thing; the case of a chronically sick 94-year old something rather different.

How would this drama play out in the brave new world that atheists would like to live in, where humans are purged of nonsensical notions of living on after death? Perhaps we would hear less about release, and more about praise for being a 'fighter', for ‘raging against the dying of the light’, of squeezing the last drop out of a life that, once extinguished, has gone forever.

I don’t at all mean that atheists and agnostics can’t take an equally sensitive view of the matter as believers - of course they do. But if all humans knew – in the sense that science knows and wants all educated people to know – that survival of death is a fairytale, the merciful act of letting loved ones go might be harder to achieve.

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Playing devil's advocate here:

You said in an earlier post that some of the resistance to believing in evidence of the afterlife and reincarnation may be due to attachment to austerity. I think I understand this position. In this view, there is nobility in the struggle against death. Life after death seems too good to be true. Would it not cheapen the bravery of soldiers who risk their lives for their country if everyone was sure they'd just get another chance at life anyways? What would heroism mean in a Cosmos of eternal life?

As any scientist would be quick to remind you, however, Nature does not care about what you think should be true. But many scientists and philosophers do not realize that this applies for those who deny survival of consciousness just as it applies for those who believe in it. At the very least, much more research is called for in reincarnation, NDEs, mediums and the like, though there are serious constitutional and political difficulties with this funding this research in many countries, especially the USA.

I am activity engaged in researching psionic retrocausality and am beginning to get the hunch that extinction of consciousness may be logically inconsistent with the existence of consciousness, since consciousness in a sense transcends time. I can't yet formulate my idea rigorously, however, but it may be true that an afterlife is necessary for life itself.

Great post, Robert. Though I do have a different slant on one aspect of it.

"How would this drama play out in the brave new world that atheists would like to live in, where humans are purged of nonsensical notions of living on after death? Perhaps we would hear less about release, and more about praise for being a 'fighter', for ‘raging against the dying of the light’, of squeezing the last drop out of a life that, once extinguished, has gone forever."

Actually, what you're describing seems pretty much like the world I know. And that's attested to by the fact that when I saw Mlangeni's remarks suggesting that we should allow Mandela to die, I was very surprised. I thought--who is this guy? Is he crazy or really sane?

His perspective is what I'm accustomed to reading in New Age books and articles rather in the mainstream media.

For me, the brave new world you describe is the one I grew up in, the one I still see put forth as the "official position," and the one I'd like to see us get past.

Good point Robert touched on in Greek mythology by the myth of Tythonus acquiring immortality as Eos' lover only for her to forget to ask Zeus for eternal youth too.

The cosmic joke of it is if Andrew Mlangeni's correct when he asks for Mandela to be "released" as my own experience suggests when on four separate occasions Something told me I had to stop willing me Dad back to life against the odds at which point he finally died in his sleep the morning he was due to come out after months spent in hospital.

Because if there's anything to such a notion then it won't just be the prayers of believers in God/s who're keeping him alive but the unsuspected contribution of the will of the unbelieiving atheists who from their depths of their hearts also don't want to see him die.

And that would indeed be a cosmic joke.

One of the problems of modern society is keeping people alive for the sake of keeping people alive. Even if there is no quality to their life at all. I think one of the obvious reasons is naturally a fear of death and yet this is coming from religious believers, as most people are not atheists. So is it a case of paying mere lip service to religion or is it that our anxieties override our beliefs, that are only beliefs anyhow, and not certainties?

The medical profession is complicit, because it's all just money to them. If they keep people alive longer, even if only on machines and drugs, well all the better for the profits of such medical tech and Pharma companies. And that's who doctors are really working for. I do think though the role of the medical profession is secondary to Western society's fear of death. The doctors are doing what the family want them to do, so I think the real problem lies with society.

And isn't our fear of death really rooted in a fear of life, as so many have pointed out?

"...extinction of consciousness may be logically inconsistent with the existence of consciousness, since consciousness in a sense transcends time."

Good insight, Stephen. I think one of God's aims is to discover whether extinction is possible. Ahh, the unbearable heat of the unquenchable fire! Ahh, the delicious ice-cold touch of nonexistence!

Stephen, I also am interested in your point about the extinction of consciousness being logically inconsistent with the existence of it. I was thinking idly about this just last night for some reason.

It's not that I suspect it's *logically* inconsistent but that it may just *not be possible* for consciousness to cease. That's certainly a powerful intuition I have had.

But beyond the validity of my or your intuitions is the certain fact that we don't know what consciousness is (or what 'being a self' is), we can't define it and we don't know where it comes from.

Have you ever had an argument with someone who doesn't believe there's such a thing as the hard problem? I have on two different occasions, with two highly intelligent people who couldn't get their heads round the distinction between a 'zombie' (looks and acts like a human, fully functioning, but no consciousness) and a conscious human. They just couldn't really conceive of consciousness and I got nowhere in trying to explain why consciousness is a puzzle, or asking how can matter produce consciousness, etc etc. And when I tried to define consciousness, as they demanded (or they'd refuse to take it seriously), I found myself unable to. So they were able to act as if it was a non-issue. Plenty of 'philosophers', artificial intelligence people, etc, take a similar shallow stance.

But of course it does exist, but just what the hell is it?

My suspicion is that consciousness is a key part of ultimate reality, perhaps is the essence of reality. And just possibly, if we go far enough 'up' inside our own consciousness, past all the particulars of our individual selves, we might find there is just one consciousness.

When I was getting my Ph.D. in physics at [elite Ivy League university] a few years ago, I would sometimes discuss consciousness with philosophy grad students. These philosophy students could not believe that there were physics students and even professional physicists who did not believe in materialism. IIRC, surveys of academics show that physics is one of the fields most friendly to parapsychology. I think it is not only due to the influence of quantum mechanics but also due to the fact that after studying the equations governing particles and fields for so long, it is impossible to see how qualia can be generated from physics alone.

But philosophy seems to be stuck in the 19th century. Even the best philosophy students seemed to be pretty clueless on matters like quantum non-locality and indeterminism. They also didn't know anything about parapsychology ... but nor did anybody else at my school, for that matter. I think it's possible that close-mindedness may be a much greater problem at elite universities since everyone who got there, students, post-docs, and faculty alike, got in because they are very good at absorbing mainstream views.

I can't yet formulate my idea rigorously, however, but it may be true that an afterlife is necessary for life itself.

Your idea is that the spirits of the deceased have acted on the past originating living beings, while living beings have become the spirits of the deceased? This idea is very interesting, but I see no evidence for it except the retropsychokinesis experiments.

There is more than enough good evidence now to support the survival hypothesis. To quote an oft used saying, "anyone that hopes or thinks death is the end is going to be disappointed.

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